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Top 5 Life Lessons from Working in the Arts

Top 5 Life Lessons from Working in the Arts

I work at a theater. I got my degree in Theater and Speech and have been working in wardrobe for over 10 years. I thought it might be fun to share some of the things I’ve gleaned from my time, so here are my top 5 lessons learned working in the arts.

Storytelling is how we learn.

We all tell stories every day. When you answer the questions, “How was your weekend”, “What are you doing after work”, or “Where did you adopt your pet”, you are telling the story of your life. Over time the way you experience the world becomes the story of your life here on earth. Sharing these stories with others and listening to their stories is how one gains perspective, knowledge, and empathy. Listening teaches us to experience more facets of society and to be open to other’s reactions and thought processes. The story of your life and my life and a town’s life can show us patterns, mistakes, growth, and ultimately effect change.

Every aspect of art (visual, musical, theatrical, literary, etc) is the struggle to tell a story that speaks directly to you, regardless of how alike or different you are from the medium or the artist. Art is how we show the world how we see the world, and hopefully how we learn to respect other’s stories.

Hard work is worth it.

It may seem from an outside perspective that artists don’t work very hard. Slap some paint on a canvas, jot down a few words, play an instrument for a couple hours. Most of the work of artists is invisible. You don’t see the hours of research, the years of practice, or the plethora of pieces that failed before the final success.

Personally, I spent last week in a dark theater with about 40 other people. We worked from 45 to 75+ hours, 6 days in a row, in collaboration, to bring about the play which we opened after another week of rehearsing all day and performing every night. Every day things changed, got better, became more solid, and after these 2 grueling weeks we were ready to cement the show that we will be doing for the next 6 weeks.

The hard work doesn’t stop after opening, because we will still work 6 days a week, doing 8 shows, working from 6 to 13 hours a day to share a story. We will affect the lives of school children and adults who will carry this performance in their hearts for the rest of their lives, and their viewpoint will forever be changed by this collective experience.

We are a different kind of business person.

Most artists are their own small business. Sure, there are directors, editors, gallery owners, and conductors, but none of these people are responsible for the actual work an artist produces. It is up to ourselves. We have to push ourselves because we have no one else to push us. We must find each and every job, as most artistic work is freelance and temporary. Many people work several jobs at the same time to support their art.

We are our own bosses, our own critics, and our own coaches. It is not an easy path to find work every couple of months, or weeks, or even days and still, we cannot give up. There is an innate desire in artists to share their point of view with people, and they will work as hard as they can to make their art a reality.

Co-workers are everything.

I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people I think are great at their jobs. People whose work I admire and learn from. People who are silly and lovely and hardworking and diligent and caring. If you can find a job where the people you’re surrounded by help you want to be a better person, you’ve hit the jackpot. Most of us spend most of our day at work. If you can wake up and look forward to seeing the people in your ‘office,’ it can make even the grumpiest, rainiest, yuckiest day bearable.

We are community builders.

Not only do we build community among artists, but we also help build the community at large. By bringing people together to experience a piece of art, we are encouraging people to interact with each other. It takes every kind of job to produce a play. Everything from financial planning, fundraising, and marketing to guest services, painters, designers, and educational outreach are represented even in small theater companies. This builds our own community of people with very different skills.

An audience may be made up of people of all ages, races, religions, and backgrounds, and bringing them together actually helps us! It allows them to help us further diversify our community. It allows us to listen and share reactions to our storytelling and it allows us all, once again, to grow and learn. It is a beautiful circle and I am so happy to be a part of it.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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I am a theater professional living and working in Chicago. I enjoy painting, Nintendo, my boyfriend and our cat Tallulah.

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful and so true. Thank you for sharing

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